I am in the midst of another period of real distress about the prominence which alcohol and its abuse has in our society. The son of close friends had his drink spiked on the weekend. Very scary with complete memory loss for some hours! My son in high-school tells me that a group of his close friends 'got wasted and hooked-up' over a recent weekend. My daughter, starting medical school, goes off for a weekend's orientation and the time just drowns in alcohol.
I am sick of it.
Then there is all the stuff in the news. How many of the saddest stories have the abuse of alcohol as a common denominator? I wrote about this some years ago with mixed results! The blessings of alcohol are grossly overstated just as the curses of alcohol are greatly understated.
Let me start with a story...
I know a young adult who recently went on a weeklong University field trip. It was a typically pathetic and unimaginative group of students who only knew one way to have a good time: consuming alcohol. They got drunk every single night. This young adult chooses not to drink. Oh, the mocking and the scorn that is heaped on! Oh, the sheer disbelief in their faces! "What?! - you don't drink?"
But as the week went on, two things occurred. One was that the mocking gradually turned to intrigue in the face of the person's quiet stedfastness. "Wow - you really don't drink, do you? Why is that?" This person told me that a dozen different conversations opened-up through the course of the week which naturally led to deeper discussions about life and vocation and choices ... and Jesus.
The second thing that happened was that those Christians on the field trip - so committed as they were to being relevant that their opportunity to witness disappeared into the drinking sessions - started emerging to whisper that they were Christians too. They seemed strangely emboldened by this person's stance. Gradually these conversations flowed as well and some real solidarity and community developed that strengthened each other to be distinctive under pressure.
So, what do we have here? Think about it. One person's willingness to have the courage to be distinctive opens up conversations leading both to witness (with those who are not-yet believers) as well as to community (with those who are believers). WOW! I like it, I really like it. Salt and light in exquisite tension and being lived right at a point in our culture that matters.
What am I not saying?
I am not saying that it is impossible to consume alcohol and be effective in mission. No! I am not that stupid. God bless you if this is your conviction. Nor am I even saying that it is some-how 'un-Christian' to consume alcohol (although if you talk to me about water-into-wine again I'll probably go "blah, blah, blah" which is a strange response to make to a gospel text!).
What am I saying?
I remain genuinely surprised that more Christians do not make the same choices as this young person - for the sake of the gospel. I am convinced that part of the reason is a simple failure of courage to stand-out from the crowd as different. I heard an Anglican bishop on BBC's Hard Talk recently state that the church was originally meant to be counter-cultural. Now it is merely ... cultural! We are more concerned about relevance than we are about endurance. I doubt whether the word 'relevance' was ever on the lips of New Testament believers. We are being duped to believe that mission is all salt and all incarnation - and it isn't. It is light. It is attraction.
C'mon everyone - let's raise our glasses to living distinctively with distinction.
[PS - not a bad topic for my 200th post, eh?!]